I’ve mentioned before that localization is a process that, when it comes to videogames tended to skip Portugal, which at best got the Brazilian Portuguese variant and, at worst was stuck with a menu that had Spanish and English as the only ones you could select. What language came packaged with the Portuguese version is an interesting story of its own, and perhaps something that I will get into some other time, as I’ve seen language pairings that vary from Spanish/Italian/English to “Dutch/Spanish/German” but for the longest time the amount of video games localised into our national variant of Portuguese could be counted with your fingers.
It is, in part, something I credit with my fluency in English, playing Pokemon Yellow at age 6 and being unable to advance past Viridian because I just couldn’t figure out what to do, to the point I asked my mum, in the days before unlimited packages mind you, to please call my aunt so I could ask my cousin was an experience that helped me learn and define early concepts. A “scratch” followed by the claws animation made me get the idea of what a scratch was or a “bubble beam” followed by a stream of bubbles made me understand the English word for Bubbles and by the time I was done with it, months after, I had a shaky understanding of English, though it wasn’t backed by any grammatical knowledge. Whether or not it benefits kids to play games in a non-native language however isn’t the topic that we’re going to discuss today but rather we will begin what is a deep dive into one of the most nostalgic PS2 games for me, Cars
You might be snickering to yourself and quietly asking yourself why oh why I would pick Cars of all the video games ever translated and localised into the European variant of Portuguese? Sure, there might be fewer titles to pick from that I would like but, you think looking at the title of this blog post, this seems like a random choice.
Well yes, and no actually. Is it a game I ever thought I would cover here? Not really, when I got the game on sale a few weeks back I got it not with the intent of making this an article, but rather I got it because it was a game nostalgic to me. Did it reveal itself to be a prime candidate for a deep dive? Surprisingly yes! While I meant to only really do an article on it as I dug further and further (I beat the whole game with a smile on my face the entire time) it quickly became apparent how good – for the most part – the localisation was; More than good something even more important about it made itself clear, I was interesting. Interesting enough to write about.
The game is divided into five chapters and as I am not one to look a gift horse in the mouth I will take the game’s division of its content as the one I take into account. Having the game divided into chapters makes things easier for me because it provides me a good stopping point for benchmarking every single article. I expect each chapter to take anything from 2 to 4 articles which would give us around 10 to 20 articles but as I have not typed them all I can’t be sure. As for this one the article itself doesn’t need you to know anything about the world of Cars to be enjoyed but I’d recommend you watch at least Cars 3, while the first one is in my opinion is just okay and the second one is probably Pixar’s weakest movie the third movie is good enough to warrant the series’ existence. That was not why sequels were, of course, it probably has to do with the billions in merchandise Cars made but I still enjoy Cars 3, though it isn’t necessary to read this article, merely a good movie recommendation.
While this game is a direct continuation of the first movie, and it treats the way it tells its story as if it expects you to know the characters because it doesn’t introduce anyone I am not going to write much about the story; no, what I am interested in is how they localised it, so if a character goes “Howdy partner” I don’t care if they’re a genocidal flower but instead how we would put that in Portuguese. With that said now that we’ve referenced Undertale let us begin…
We are not thirty seconds into the game when the first thing that caught my eye shows up, in what is a dream sequence that serves as the tutorial Lighting McQueen, the protagonist of the Cars franchise and this game is dreaming about racing; Taking place in the town that will serve as the first hub world a few cars have gathered for what will surely be a good race, pumping up the crowd and acting as the announcer is Matter a tow mater (get it) with a pretty strong southern accent and behaviours to fit the stereotype. As the racers approach the starting line he lets out this line.
“It’s going to be one heck of a race”
Which provides us with the first question of the day. How the heck do you translate a swear word, or in this case, a kind of swear word? I’m not going to write them out in full but if you have a F word, what word do you choose to use and why?
It’s a better question than you might realise and the really great thing is that it gives us, translators, an excuse to know a language’s foulest words. There might be a direct “equivalent” (never use that word around a translator) to making love or poo or bumhole, if you know what I mean does that mean they follow the same logic? That they have the same place and frequency of use for both languages? It’s something that we will discuss after I reveal what the Portuguese version of the line is.
So let’s start with Caraças, what is caraças? Much like the word carago it it meant to bring to mind a swear word in Portuguese, in this case AMAB (assigned male at birth) genital organ without actually saying it. This is a perfect example of the issue with translating swear words because while in English dick might be considered rude but not exactly one of the “big ones” to the point I’m ok typing it out in Portuguese it is used so often and so enthusiastically it would probably replace the making love one in both frequency and type of use. Indeed the word (which no I won’t write) is the one you’d yell after being hurt, as you would “f-that hurt”.
As I’ve said before and as I’ll say again translating is often so much more than one to one. It’s not finding the word that better matches the literal meaning but it takes into account so much more, and this isn’t even where we reach heck and caraças either because those enter another area of problematic idiomatic expressions.
Swearing part 2 – HECK! DANG IT! FRICK! – The “not swears”
The thing about swear words is that they’re not exactly defined in stone, nor are they the same in every part of the world. Heck, even within the same country, or town a word might be considered unpleasant but ok or it can be considered highly offensive, you just must look at, for example, damn or hell, are those two words swear words? And if so are dang and heck acceptable? Most people don’t seem to regard them as curse words but for the longest time using any of them would have meant your game got tagged with a language tag. (though of course hell as in the place would be ok if your story dealt with demons or something like it.
That is something to keep in mind when you’re translating something meant for younger viewers or more prudish ones and are instructed not to swear. Dang, frick, heck, butthole, all of those are words that replace words that might not be suitable for all audiences yet depending on the project even if you’re not translating for adults there is a big chance that damn and hell will be accepted. Minor swears, because swear comes in tiers that vary regionally.
So why caraças? Is it generally thought of as ok? Well given that it is in a Disney movie you already know the answer, but I will add that there is context and ways to use it correctly. Just as non-native speakers have been known to sound off when using swears correctly there is a way to use them so that it doesn’t sound off. “effing mail! It’s always late” is generally used, but you would not say “witch mail, it’s always late” (when you consider the real word)…much in the same way you need to be careful about and when you apply the non-swears and how you do it.
Lastly I just want to point out that the word caraças has a “ç” there which might be read as an “S” just as how ß can be read as two “S” in German, if I’m oversimplifying it and not entering linguistics. This is not going to be a topic for this article, or even any deep dives into the Cars game, but I can say, and this is a topic for an article soon, it can cause trouble.